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What are LEED Rating Systems?

By Mal Baxter
Updated May 17, 2024
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Standing for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED rating systems represent international standards of certification that recognize environmentally sustainable design, construction, operation, and maintenance of residential and commercial buildings. Provided by third-party verification, LEED standards are observed to provide governments and private organizations a clear framework in the implementation of environmentally sound building practices. These include but are not limited to energy savings and efficiency; reduction of emissions; environmental safety and quality; and conscientious management of natural resources. These processes are intended to improve building quality and profitability while minimizing negative impacts on the environment and human performance.

LEED rating systems were developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), a nonprofit coalition of building industry leaders originating in Washington, D.C. These ratings are administered by volunteer committees comprised of varied specialists and experts from a cross-section of the building and construction industry. Technical advisories help ensure scientific rigor and consistency; volunteer LEED committees practice consensus that includes member ballots and transparent appeals processes. LEED provides a standard benchmark for sustainable building practices.

Local and national governments use LEED rating systems for public-owned or funded buildings; these include initiatives for LEED implementation in varied agencies beyond those related to energy or natural resources. LEED projects have spread worldwide in developed and developing countries. Committees are comprised of varied industry specialists that include engineers, lenders, and government officials, among others. Buildings that are subjected to LEED certification include offices, retail stores, institutions and schools, hotels, and certain kinds of residential buildings. The push toward green building practices and green manufacturing helps ensure sustainable and healthful environmental interaction and stewardship.

LEED rating systems provide four certification levels for the environmental sustainability of the sites they measure: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. These relate to the building ratings in five categories: materials and resources, energy and atmosphere, sustainability, water efficiency, and indoor environmental quality. The LEED Web site provides additional information.

LEED rating systems allow buildings to lower operational costs while potentially increasing asset value. They help reduce waste and increase conservation of energy and water. These sites can provide more healthful and safe interaction with their human occupants, and help reduce greenhouse emissions. LEED building certification may qualify organizations for governmental incentives like tax rebates and zoning allowances. They also help demonstrate an owner's environmental conscientiousness, natural resource stewardship, and social responsibility.

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